“Food is not just fuel. Food is about family, food is about community, food is about identity. And we nourish all those things when we eat well.” -Michael Pollan
Now, more than ever, the choices we make are critical to ensuring not only our own personal health and well-being, but that of those around us. One way we can support and nourish our bodies and our communities is by choosing to buy local food. Buying local has many benefits, from the immediate and obvious nutritional gain to the bigger picture economic growth and resiliency.
To start, locally grown fruits and vegetables taste better and are better for you. Food grown in your own community was likely picked just days ago and is fresh, crisp, loaded with flavor and packed with nutrients. It didn’t travel hundreds of miles through dozens of hands before reaching you. It’s coming directly to you from the farm it was grown on – a farm right in your very own neighborhood.
Local food supports local farm families.
Farmers receive just 14.8 cents of every dollar consumers spend on food, according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Local farmers who sell direct to consumers or at retailers that support local food systems are compensated much more fairly for their product. By purchasing locally grown food, you’re giving a farmer the opportunity to do what they love and make a living doing it.
Local food builds community.
When you buy directly from a farmer, you’re re-establishing a time-honored connection between the eater and the grower. Meeting face-to-face with your local growers establishes a level of trust and understanding that isn’t possible within large-scale food production. In many cases, it gives you access to a farm where you and your family can go to learn about nature and agriculture, fostering a deeper appreciation for food and awareness of the process. You can ask questions and voice concerns. Small producers are more inclined to listen to the consumer and make changes based on the needs of their community.
Local food supports the local economy.
When you buy from a local farmer or business, you’re circulating money directly back into the local economy, creating stability within your community. Local farms are owned and operated by your friends and neighbors — they are invested in your community, just like you. Local businesses also help to create a stronger local tax base. This means better services like schools, roads, emergency response, etc.
Each time you buy local food, you’re strengthening your local and regional food systems and creating resiliency in your community. In times of crisis, like we’re currently experiencing with COVID-19, having a strong, diverse food system is crucial. Local farmers ensure the community has a steady supply of food. They’re also providing opportunities to retail stores, markets and restaurants that sell their products.
Buying local makes you feel good.
Supporting your neighbors and your community provides a sense of social awareness and civic participation. Your purchasing decisions reflect your desire to do good in the world. It shows a strong commitment to your health while also stimulating the local economy and protecting the environment, helping to build an identity you can be proud of.
So how can you safely buy local right now?
Purchasing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share is one way to support local farms. When you purchase a share, you’re providing farmers with funds at the beginning of the growing season to help cover operational costs, such as the purchase of seeds and other supplies, labor, etc. In return, you’ll get a weekly box of seasonal fruits and vegetables throughout the summer and fall. The Upper Peninsula Food Exchange (UPFE) has put together a handout with information on local farms that offer CSAs, online stores, and other remote purchasing options for every county in the Upper Peninsula. The organization will provide free copies of the handout to businesses and farms that would like to distribute them. An electronic version is also available at https://upfoodexchange.com/farmdirectories/.
Organizations within UPFE have responded quickly to COVID-19. In addition to the CSA and online store information, the group has offered farmer community check-ins across the Upper Peninsula so that farmers had a place to discuss their concerns and share resources. They have created webpages and emails with information and assistance specific to agriculture, and even helped farms and farmers markets create online stores.
Buying local food has always been and always will be important. When we start looking at food more than just fuel, we can see the bigger picture and realize that is about family, community, and identity, as journalist and activist Michael Pollan said. By supporting local farmers today, you help ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow, and that future generations will have access to nourishing, flavorful, and abundant food.
UPFE serves as a resource portal for farmers, businesses, and individuals looking to connect with and actively participate in local food systems. Community partners from across the Upper Peninsula coordinate and support local food projects of all kinds, including farm to school initiatives, public policy work, community education, food safety training, and business development. Key to the work of the U.P. Food Exchange is the online marketplace, a food hub that aggregates local food products for institutional purchasers.
UPFE’s defining feature is collaboration. Our team consists of representatives from Bay Mills Health, Fresh Systems LLC, Federally Recognized Tribal Extension, The Marquette Food Co-op, Mighty Soil Farm, MSU Extension, the MSU Product Center, Michigan Tech, Ski Country Farms, Taste the Local Difference, Waishkey Bay Farm, the Western Upper Peninsula Planning & Development Region and Western Upper Peninsula Food Policy Council.
Kelsie Dewar is the Events and Media Coordinator for the Marquette Food Coop. Learn more at https://marquettefood.coop/